From Laws Concerning Gifts to the Poor

Author

Maimonides, Moses

Genre

Article/Essay

Overview

Moses Maimonides was a Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher born in 1135 in Muslim-ruled Cordoba during the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. Among his most famous works are the Guide for the Perplexed and the Mishneh Torah, a code of Jewish law from which this selection is taken. In this excerpt, Maimonides gives a concise account of eight different kinds of giving, compelling us to consider what is given, how it is given, when it is given, to whom it is given, and why it is given. His ranking of levels of giving also invites us to think about our own experiences, motivations and criteria for giving. 

Full Text*

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Source

The Civically Engaged Reader, eds. Davis & Lynn, (Great Books Foundation, 2006).

Type

Reading

Themes

Faith and BeliefGiving and ReceivingMoney and WealthMotives and Values

Big Questions

What makes a good gift?What do those with more owe to those with less?Where do our values come from? Why do we care about what we care about?

Publication

Civically Engaged Reader

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Describe the kind of giving first described by Maimonides in your own words. What makes it superior to the other seven?
  2. Why does Maimonides think that it is a higher level of giving when both the giver and receiver are unknown to each other than when just one or the other is unknown?
  3. Why does Maimonides call these “degrees” of giving rather than stages or steps, as we often hear them described?
  4. What reasons does Maimonides give for the order of the degrees? Do you think they are in the proper order? Would you switch any of them around?
  5. What do you make of the level that Maimonides describes as “he who gives the poor man less than what is proper but with a friendly countenance?” Does this image resonate with you?
  6. Is it wrong, or just a lesser good, to give “with a frowning countenance”?
  7. Is it fair to compare different levels of giving? Do you buy that some kinds of giving are better than others?
  8. Which of these degrees of charity best describes your giving practices?
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